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Choosing the Best Audio-Visual System for a Church Environment

Introduction: Creating a memorable and spiritually uplifting church service involves more than just powerful sermons and heartfelt worship; it also requires support from a reliable and well-designed audio-visual (AV) system. Selecting the right AV system for your church is crucial to ensure that every member of the congregation can fully engage with the message and […]

Introduction:

Creating a memorable and spiritually uplifting church service involves more than just powerful sermons and heartfelt worship; it also requires support from a reliable and well-designed audio-visual (AV) system. Selecting the right AV system for your church is crucial to ensure that every member of the congregation can fully engage with the message and worship experience. In this article, we will explore key considerations and recommendations to help you choose the best AV system for your church service.

Assessing Church Size and Layout:

  • The first step in selecting an AV system is understanding the size and layout of your church. Larger spaces may require more powerful audio systems and additional display screens to ensure that everyone can see and hear clearly. Consider the acoustics of the space and any unique architectural features that may impact sound distribution.

Audio System Components:

a. Microphones: Invest in high-quality microphones for pastors, worship leaders, and musicians. Consider both wired and wireless options based on the church's needs. Remember a wired microphone will always be more reliable and cost effective than wireless.

b. Mixing Console: A user-friendly mixing console is essential for balancing and adjusting audio levels. Look for a console with sufficient channels for all instruments and microphones.

But overall look for a console that your users will feel confident and comfortable operating.

c. Speakers: Choose speakers that match the size and aesthetics of your church. They are the one part of the audio system that is always on display so they mustn’t dominate visually. Ultimately there may be a trade-off between looks and performance, some congregations will be happier than others sacrificing one for the other.

Visual Display:

a. Projectors and Screens: Select high-resolution projectors and screens for displaying lyrics, announcements, and multimedia content. HD resolution is good to have but not essential, widescreen format is essential as all content is this shape. However, 4K resolution is fairly pointless as most viewers will be too far from a screen to see the difference.

Consider the size and placement of screens to maximise visibility for the congregation. Sometimes there are several options for this, especially old buildings there may seem to be no obvious option, that's where a specialist church installer will have experience and solutions to offer.

b. Cameras: If your church would like to broadcast services online, Quality cameras will provide better long-term value for money and greatly increase low-light performance over basic webcams for live streaming. As control and operation of cameras and streaming equipment can be a lot more complicated than using say a laptop or phone to stream, finding a supplier who has experience working with churches will always produce a simpler-to-use system tailored to your needs.

Lighting:

a. Stage Lighting: Enhance the worship experience with well-designed stage lighting. Consider intelligent lighting systems that can be programmed to create dynamic atmospheres during different parts of the service. These can be programmed to allow push-button recall of lighting scenes enabling anyone to operate the system. Stage lighting can also improve the quality of your streaming output as most cameras perform better with higher light levels.

b. House Lighting: Ensure proper ambient lighting for the congregation, allowing them to read hymnals or follow along with scriptures without straining their eyes. A specialist church lighting designer will understand the unique requirements of lighting older buildings sympathetically.

Integration and Control:

Choose an AV system that allows seamless integration and control. This includes the ability to control audio, video, and lighting from a central location, making it easy for operators to manage the entire system during services. This may now include wireless operation from a tablet allowing control from the minister if operating solo.

Budget Considerations:

While it's crucial to invest in quality AV equipment, it's equally important to stay within budget. A professional church AV contractor will help you prioritise essential components and explore cost-effective options without compromising on performance.

Conclusion:

Selecting the best AV system for your church service requires careful consideration of your church's size, layout, and specific needs. By investing in high-quality audio, visual, and lighting equipment, you can create an immersive and spiritually enriching experience for your congregation, fostering a deeper connection with the message and worship. Two key components of this are 1. Selecting a provider who has a proven track record in the church sector and 2. Good communication between the church and contractor ensures that the project is delivered to your expectations and the operational capabilities of your team.

Usually, when a screen or projector is installed it will come with a remote in the box that can be used to turn the projector on or put the screen up and down, but these can be easily misplaced, leaving you with no way to easily control those devices. Therefore, we usually recommend a wall-mounted control panel, meaning that you can leave the remote controls locked away safely.

One particular product we use a lot is a small wall-mounted panel that takes away the need for remote controls, by becoming a central controller for the visual system. These controllers come in a range of sizes to suit the size of the system and some have additional features such as volume controls which can be programmed to control background music volume, for example. Ultimately, you still need to keep the remote controls handy as a backup - better to have them and not need them, as the saying goes.

Why is it better than lots of remotes?

  • Centralised Control: These controllers allow for centralised control of multiple AV components, including projectors and input selection from a single point. This simplifies operation and reduces the need for multiple remote controls.
  • Making life easy: Wall controllers can automate various functions, such as turning on or off the projector, adjusting brightness and volume, and selecting input sources. This streamlines the setup process and enhances user experience. In other words, it makes controlling your AV system much easier, and that is always a good thing.
  • Integration: The wall control panels we use are designed to integrate with various AV and automation systems, making them compatible with a wide range of equipment. This means they are useful in all sorts of installations.
  • User-Friendly: This is especially important in environments where multiple groups of people will be using the system, such as village halls or education installations. Each button function can be labelled accordingly, making the process of operating the system self-explanatory.

But what if I really like remote controls?

There are not many people who feel that way, but we want to be inclusive, so if you do love lots of remote controls, here are some reasons why you might want to stick with them over a control panel.

  • Cost: High-quality controllers can be relatively expensive, particularly when factoring in installation and programming costs. This cost may not be justifiable for smaller or budget-conscious setups.
  • Complexity: Setting up and programming SY controllers can be complex and time-consuming. It often requires specialized knowledge and expertise, so unless you are tech-savvy, you will need to call in the professionals.
  • Compatibility: While SY controllers are designed to work with a wide range of AV equipment, compatibility issues can still arise, especially with older or non-standard devices.
  • They can go wrong: SY controllers rely on technology, which can sometimes fail or experience glitches. They also rely on power supplies, which can get damaged by power surges or simply overheat due to age. When technical issues occur, they can disrupt presentations or events until resolved.
  • Maintenance: Regular maintenance and updates may be required to ensure that the SY controller and associated equipment function smoothly. This can lead to ongoing costs and potential downtime during maintenance activities.

Conclusion:

In conclusion, wall-mounted AV controllers are user-friendly, simplify control of equipment and will bring all system control to one central location. While you still need to keep the remotes safe, you will not need to juggle them to turn your system on, but instead walk over to one point and within 2 buttons, the projector or screens will be on and the input source selected.

Faculties, what are they? 

You may have heard someone say when discussing a new heating system, or moving a piece of ecclesiastical furniture in your church, “You’re going to need a faculty for that!”. A faculty is the equivalent of getting planning consent in the Church of England.

Churches are subject to planning law as much as any other building, however in the church of England this planning control has been seeded from the local council to the diocese.

This system also covers the additional demands of listed building or conservation area consent. Because of this, the system is quite involved and no less stringent than conventional planning consent.

However don’t feel too daunted, there is plenty of help available throughout the process. 

Do we need a faculty?

For most things yes, for example, objects in the church as well as the building fabric and trees and monuments in the churchyard. Each diocese has a ‘De minimis’ (small matters) list of things exempt from faculty, although you still may need approval from the archdeacon for these.

Are there different types of faculty?

List A just a log, no formal permissions are required, e.g. the gutters were cleared of leaves.

List B matters can be signed off by your archdeacon, often following consultation with the relevant DAC advisor. Not requiring a formal meeting of the whole committee.

For example, a new or replacement sound system requires only list B consent whereas a projection or streaming system requires a full faculty.

If you have a whole audio-visual project in mind, it is worth getting advice on whether to mention the sound system in the full faculty or just apply for list B for that separately.

This can allow you to go ahead with the sound system much quicker, rather than having it held up waiting for the full faculty permissions only required for projection and streaming.

As previously mentioned if you are thinking of a visual system typically comprising a projector and screen plus some flat screens for blind spots, or a camera system for streaming, you will have to go through the full faculty process.

This does involve some work explained in the next section and it helps considerably if your supplier is used to working in churches as they will generally come up with a scheme or options that they know through experience will have a good chance of being approved.

This can save a good deal of time and to and fro with the DAC and lead to a project that keeps everyone on board with the best balance of performance and aesthetics.

How do we apply for a faculty?

Go to https://facultyonline.churchofengland.org/home this is the home page of the Church of England online faculty system.

The first thing to do is create your own online account and link it to your church building. There is an extensive help section with guides on how to create the necessary documentation to support your application.

The most important of these is the User Manual for the system for parishes.

There are also some useful video resources from Lincoln and Carlisle dioceses, search for ‘church faculty system’ on YouTube.

What should we do first?

Before you start wading through the online system, a good idea is to prepare a brief summary of what you would like to do and how photos help and send it to the DAC secretary.

Then arrange a follow-up phone call to discuss this information.

This will give you useful pointers as to how to frame your faculty submissions and potential pitfalls that can be avoided at this early stage, saving time later.

DAC secretaries positively encourage this approach.

What do you have to do to apply for a faculty?

If you are looking to apply for a faculty, then you will need to complete an amount of formal paperwork and submit plans, specifications and photographs to explain the works proposed.

You will usually need to consult your church architect for advice and have a resolution from the PCC in place.

Who decides if our faculty is granted?

After following all of the online steps and asking your DAC for final advice your chancellor will look at your application and decide whether to grant a faculty or not.

If your project has attracted opposition, then the chancellor may ask to hold a consistory court hearing before making a decision.

How do we improve our chances of getting a faculty without delays?

Before starting any work in the church it is always worth asking your DAC as they will be able to advise you on the best course of action going forward.

The speed of your application being processed also depends on what you would like to do, but the DAC will advise you all the way. 

Is a faculty required for every CofE church building?

There are a very small number of listed churches which are not subject to Faculty Jurisdiction and therefore need to apply for Listed Building Consent via their Local Planning Authority for works to their buildings.

But if you have any concerns about whether you need a faculty or not, contact the DAC for advice.

It might seem like a silly question, but there is no shame in wondering why you would spend money on having a fixed sound or projection system, rather than having a portable system that you put up when you need it.

First of all, it is worth noting that you may not be able to have a fixed installation in your building if you are a church that meets in a school hall for example. But the majority of the time, an installed audio-visual system is always going to be preferable to a portable one. This article lists the 3 main reasons why.

It speeds things up. REALLY speeds them up.

If you are currently using portable equipment that needs to be set up and taken down each time it is used, consider how much time that takes each week and then multiply that by 52 to give a rough idea of how long you have spent in a year doing this. If it adds up to a lot, then maybe it is worth thinking about a fixed installation.

That projector that you have to mount on a table in exactly the correct place to get the image to fill the projection screen which you are dragging out and pulling up? How about a fixed projector which is turned on by a control panel on the wall, and an electric screen which drops down at the touch of a button on a remote control?

Or that sound system that you have to set up for each service, with the speakers on poles and sending someone to tape down the cables to stop them from being a trip hazard. Do wall-mounted loudspeakers which turn on with the system and a system which has been equalised and balanced already sound better?

Think of all that time you could save on Sundays, having an extra hour (at least) each morning to enjoy a bacon sandwich (other breakfast choices available) before heading to church 15 minutes before the service starts.

Increased reliability

By week 20 of setting up your portable system, you will have a good idea of how everything connects together, where everything goes, and how long you need to give yourself before the service starts to get everything ready in time. I imagine you will also have a list of things which have gone wrong before and solutions to each one in case they happen again mid-service.

But there will always be a new issue that you haven’t come across before, which makes running the AV system become stressful all over again. A cable that has been misplaced or not connected to the right input, a table which moves every time you get the projector in just the right place, or even feedback that you have never experienced before.

With an installed audio-visual system, you are going to get the security of everything being the way you left it last week. All the cables will still be connected, the loudspeakers will still be facing in the same direction and the microphones will be set to the correct levels. This means that you have a far more reliable system, one which is not going to throw up unexpected difficulties mid-service (although these do still happen).

Reliability allows you and the people using the system to have more confidence and to be able to focus on the things that really matter, like delivering their presentation or the reading they have been practising all week. You are there to enjoy the service as well remember!

Higher Quality, Lower Footprint

As a rule of thumb, an installed system is going to produce higher quality due to it being designed and tuned to the acoustics of the room. Often, unless you have spent thousands on your portable PA system, the standard of the equipment used in a fixed installation is going to be better, which makes sense considering it is going to need to perform for the next 10 years.

Having a fixed installation means that we can design the system to fit the space, using products which have the correct characteristics to deal with the size, shape or high reverberation of your building. This is not possible with portable equipment, meaning that the sound quality will always be compromised to some extent.

When it comes to projection, you are far likelier to get a clearer, brighter and crisper image from an installation projector than you are with a portable model. Portable projectors are great, but they have been designed to be as compact as possible, which means that they usually give a fairly low lumens output (how bright the light source inside the projector is - see our article about projectors in more detail here).

The other benefit of a fixed installation is the smaller footprint it will have in the building, as the equipment will not be taking up floor space, but mounted on the walls and often almost completely out-of-site when not in use (see our video on the winch-down screen we often use here). We are able to hide cabling and ensure that there is minimal impact on the aesthetics of the space, which is not possible anywhere near the same level as portable equipment.

Hopefully, this has convinced you that a fixed installation has far more pros than cons, but as we said at the beginning of this article, sometimes it is not possible for a number of reasons, in which case portable could be the best solution for you.

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